Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/09/18/aurora_excalibur_sky_hog/

US military offered flying hover car bike

Ducted-fan skyhog would be just 23 feet long

By Lewis Page

Posted in Science, 18th September 2008 06:02 GMT

A noted US air'n'space crazytechware firm, engaged in building a comparatively humdrum hover killbot, has strongly suggested that their machine could in fact function as the long-yearned-for flying car - or flying bike anyway.

The 'Excalibur' sky-bike prototype from Aurora Flight Sciences

The proposed aerial steed. Pic: AFS

Aurora Flight Sciences of Virginia is already well known for its efforts on crewless stratocruiser planes, both hydrogen fuelled and - more radically - of sun-harvesting "Z-Wing" tiltship configuration. The company has also been working for a while on its "Excalibur" ducted-fan vertical takeoff aircraft.

The Excalibur is offered as a fairly normal high-autonomy aerial weapons platform (that is, normal among late-generation killer robots). Its prime mover, like most high-performance aircraft, is a turbine. The special sauce which makes it stand out among ducted-fan craft is that the fans themselves are driven electrically using turbine-generated juice rather than a mechanical gearbox, so saving on weight and allowing the main drive to be optimised for propelling the hover-plane in forward flight using lift from its wings.

Aurora has so far seen the Excalibur functioning in normal times as an attack craft, packing such traditional killbot favourites as the Hellfire missile and Viper Strike pocket-size smart glider bombs. Excalibur could face tough competition in this role from helicopters both manned and unmanned which can probably outperform it in the hover, and from winged aircraft which can probably match or exceed its cruise and loiter performance.

Now, however, the company seems keen to suggest that the innovative winged hovership could carry out other missions, making the most of its small footprint and vertical landing abilities. In particular, company reps have told the military press that they reckon Excalibur could carry a single human passenger - perhaps a special-forces operator. Given the craft's high level of autonomy (it requires no remote piloting, even for landing and takeoff) this passenger wouldn't need to be a qualified pilot.

The military need for such an aircraft could be marginal. But the Excalibur, as now described, would actually have many of the attributes of a flying car: Vertical takeoff, range, largely hands-off autopiloting. If it were quiet enough, it could be a Jetsons-style aerial ride - though apparently single-seat only.

There are still a few quibbles, though. Apparently the full-size, man-lifter Excalibur would be 21 feet wide and 23 feet long: Rather large for a flying bike.

For now, Aurora hopes to build a smaller trial job (pictured) to fly by the end of the year. If that goes well, they'll try to sell the larger full size sky-hog effort to the Army. ®